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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Interview with Kristen Britain

Official Kristen Britain Website
Order “The High King’s TombHERE
(Photo Credit: Diana Whiting Natural Eye Photography)

Despite a bibliography that only includes two novels—Green Rider (1998), First Rider’s Call (2003)—and various short fiction, fantasy author Kristen Britain has developed a considerable and loyal fanbase over the years. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of anticipation for “The High King’s Tomb”, the long-awaited third volume in the Green Rider series. In support of the book’s pending release (November 6, 2007), I have for you an interview with Ms. Britain which talks about the new book, the future of the series, why there’s such a long wait between releases, cover art, and much more! Much thanks goes out to Kristina at Penguin for setting up the Q&A, and especially to Ms. Britain for her participation and wonderful answers :)

Q: For someone who hasn’t read one of your novels, how would you describe the type of fantasy that you write?

Kristen: Fun! But if you’re looking for a “handle” as used by publishers, I guess I’d call it traditional adventure fantasy. Lots of magic and danger in a pre-industrial setting with pretty scenery. And we must not forget the horses. I love horses, so I had to include them.

Q: “The High King’s Tomb”, the sequel to “Green Rider” and “First Rider’s Call” is coming out this November. What can readers expect with the new Karigan adventure?

Kristen: Readers can expect Karigan and friends to get into a whole new heap of trouble. Karigan gets to wear some clothes that are not green, we meet a new adversary, there are horse chases, and a return to some places not seen since Green Rider. We’ll meet new friends and enemies, as well as see some of the old.

Q: Karigan is obviously the star of the show, but you do a pretty good job with the supporting characters. Which ones have surprised you the most and who should readers pay attention to in “The High King’s Tomb”?

Kristen: The characters who surprise me are literally the ones who surprise me. They’re the ones I did not plan on, who walk on stage and demand attention. In TOMB, there is a character named Amberhill. He wasn’t even supposed to have a name. He was just supposed to be an anonymous, minor walk-on character who caused some trouble to advance the plot, and then disappear. He had a different agenda, however, and turned out to be more interesting and significant than I intended. Surprises of this sort are really gifts, whether it’s a new character I wasn’t expecting, or a plot point I didn’t think of before that reveals itself as I’m writing. I must admit, however, one cannot allow every minor character to become important. Then you end up with a really bloated, beyond-epic fantasy monster on your hands! Minor characters do have their place.

Q: Does “The High King’s Tomb” complete the Rider series and if not, what are your plans for future installments?

Kristen: TOMB does not complete the series, and I can’t put a number on how many installments there may or may not be. I will let the needs of the story dictate its own length (and of course the willingness of my publisher to continue with the series). Currently I’m working under contract on the fourth book. Whether or not that completes the series remains to be seen. Heh heh heh…

Q: So was Green Rider conceived as a series from the very beginning and how have the story & its characters evolved from your initial ideas?

Kristen: It was not. I wrote Green Rider thinking it could be a series, but I was not going to assume anyone would want to publish the one novel, much less a continuing series. So, I wrote it as a complete story.

I think it’s only natural that story and characters evolve as time goes on. If the characters didn’t grow and change, and if the story and world did not deepen, you’d end up with a cartoon.

Q: I agree! Now, you have a couple of short stories appearing in upcoming anthologies including next year’s “Misspelled” (DAW Books) edited by Julie Czerneda. What can you tell us about these stories, what do you like about writing short fiction, and what’s the biggest different between the two?

Kristen: Thanks for asking. What I like about writing short stories is that they are sort of a creative vacation for my brain. The stories I wrote for “Misspelled”, and for John Marco’s forthcoming anthology, “Imaginary Friends” (Fall 2008), are off-beat and rather different from the Green Rider books, and therefore I got to access a different part of my brain. It’s also nice because short stories are compact and complete within themselves, which is very much in contrast to a series of novels!

My true love, however, is novel writing. I enjoy delving into the lives of characters and exploring their world. It’s like imaginary travel! Only a novel can really allow that amount of depth.

Q: It took almost five years before your first sequel was published (August 2003) and now a little over four years will have passed by the time your second sequel is released. In the FAQ on your website, there’s an answer for why it takes so long for your books to come out, but it focuses more on the actual publishing process. Obviously every writer approaches their writing differently, so could you describe your methods for us a little bit and perhaps explain the long delays between your books?

Kristen: How long do you have? Only kidding.

I think the FAQ pretty well explains the delays, but here is a little more depth on the matter. I will admit I am a slow writer, and fantasy novels, including mine, can be rather long, especially if there is a large cast of characters and a whole world to build and sustain. One evening during a session of the writing group I belong to, the other members were talking about some literary novel one or two of them had read. It came in at all of 60,000 words. I made the flip comment, “That’s hardly a book.” One of the members was slightly offended, for the novel she had just turned in to her publisher came to 80,000 words. My comment arose from the fact that I had recently revised and turned in TOMB at over 210,000 words. You could fit a few literary novels into my one novel. So there is length. That’s a lot of content to take care of and make right, and doing so takes time.

I presented a first draft of TOMB to my editor in the fall of 2005. When we met to discuss it, I had a list of things needing to be fixed, and she had her own suggestions. It then took me until mid-July of 2006 to finish up those revisions and turn them in. During that time, I added thousands of words – whole chapters and scenes (almost a new short novel of material in itself!). I was also delayed by two months by illness that knocked me right off my feet. After I handed the revisions in, I waited months and months to hear my editor’s thoughts on them. Ten and a half months of anxious waiting to be precise. She scheduled the book for November 2007. So despite the fact I had turned in the revisions in July ’06, she decided the appropriate time to bring the book out would be over a year later. Scheduling is important. First, a publisher has a whole line-up of other books to contend with, and one does not want to bring them out all at once. Second, some books will do better during certain months than others. Perhaps you can now see how publishers can extend the waiting period.

I will add that since writers are human, there are also other obstacles preventing them from finishing books sooner. I mentioned illness, but when I wrote the first two books, I was also contending with a full time day job and, like so many people, some personal problems, deaths in the family, etc. Not to mention someone has to excavate the kitty litter and mow the lawn, and writing professionally isn’t just about writing. There are numerous administrative tasks to take care of as well. Unfortunately the cat and dog are resistant to becoming secretaries. They can’t type, and they’d much rather sleep and eat.

What it all boils down to is that writers are not immune to real life!

Q: Well that’s some reality check! So every writer has their good days and their bad. What helps you to persevere through the bad ones and to keep writing?

Kristen: My pets, my friends, the natural beauty around me, and my love of writing. Without my love of writing, it would all be pointless.

Q: Even though you’ve only written three novels and various short fiction, you’ve been around since the late 90s. What changes have you seen take place both within and without the publishing industry that has been positive for the fantasy genre? What about negative changes?

Kristen: I’m no expert, but it seems to me publishing overall has taken a hit since 2001, and fantasy has not been immune. It’s a wild time, and publishing has been affected by everything from world politics/terrorism/war and the economy, to emerging technology. People have all kinds of new ways to use their time other than reading. Gaming and computer technology just get more and more incredible, and I think currently a lot of writers and publishers are asking themselves how the written word can fit in and remain relevant with all these new distractions. It’s a time of uncertainty, yet one of new possibilities. It’ll be interesting to see what is down the road for the fantasy genre, and books in general. On a personal level, it’s all beyond me; out of my hands. All I can do is continue the work I love, try to create the best stories I can, and hope for the best. I do believe that technologies will come and go, but the desire for stories won’t.

Q: Out of everything that makes up a fantasy tale—the plot, characters, worldbuilding, the magic system, etc., what do you feel are the most important and why?

Kristen: I write about people, about their fears, loves, and the trouble they get into. I love the worldbuilding and other elements of fantasy, but for me, the stories are really about the people. Therefore, for me, the characters are the primary element. I can relate to a story better, hang with it, if I care about the characters.

Q: In fantasy literature, cover art is a bit of an issue, especially how important it is in selling a book, how fantasy covers are considered generic, the difference between international & stateside covers, et cetera. You’re book covers, the first two of which were provided by Keith Parkinson who sadly passed away in 2005, tend to be more traditional. How did you decide on artist Donato Giancola, what did you think of his cover for “The High King’s Tomb”, why have your international/domestic covers basically remained the same, and what are your thoughts on the subject as a whole?

Kristen: I love all my covers, none of which I consider generic, especially since many covers are being created with computer graphics these days. So they may be traditional, but they stand out from the computer graphics style of covers. I must say that I love the traditional style – it’s part of the fantasy reading experience for me. One must keep in mind that I was influenced at a time when the Brothers Hildebrandt were doing all the Tolkien calendars. The art became part of the storytelling.

I was extremely saddened by the premature passing of Keith Parkinson. He was not only an amazing artist, but a generous and humorous human being. I never met him in person, but all my dealings with him were positive and fun. If you look at the cover he did for Green Rider, you see his storytelling ability in the art: A young woman, looking rather frantic, rides at a gallop. Her horse is starting to disappear. This hints at danger for this character, and magic. Because she’s looking over her shoulder, it invites the potential reader to turn the book over to see what she sees. Very crafty! There are all the nice author blurbs there (hardcover), but the story also continues. A mysterious man in gray is following the young woman on a horse of his own. He is riding slowly and deliberately, nocking arrow to bow. Will he chase her? Will he aim the arrow at her and try to kill her? Hopefully all this storytelling on the cover will further invite the potential reader to look inside and read the inner flaps, and go onward to the actual novel. Besides the storytelling, Keith depicted the natural landscape so beautifully, and that in itself stands out from much of what is on the shelves.


Donato is also an amazing artist and a true gentleman. I love the art for TOMB! That horse! The architecture! Wow! After Keith passed, I hoped that the artist who followed would be able to carry on in his spirit, in other words, not changing the look of the series too drastically. I always admired Donato’s work, just as I admired Keith’s, and so when the time came to discuss the topic of artist with my editor, Donato was the first name I mentioned. Ultimately it was up to my editor to decide who would take the reins, but she’d already worked with Donato on other covers for other authors, and agreed he was a good choice for the series.

Q: It’s alluded that there’s a certain lack of respect from writers (non-speculative fiction) towards authors of genre fiction. Have you had to deal with any such problems and what are your thoughts on the subject?

Kristen: I suppose there is snobbery out there from category to category. I am in a writing group with literary writers – two published novelists, a poet/essayist, and a soon-to-be published novelist. There was a bit of a learning curve for them to understand the genre, but they’ve come around beautifully, and I think they’ve a little more respect for commercial fiction now. Good writing and good stories should be universal across all categories of fiction. That said, there will always be personal preference in what one reads/writes, and there is no wrong or right to it. And where there are human beings, there will always be those who are of the opinion that one thing is superior to another. It makes the world go around.

Q: In the past year, two of fantasy’s great authors passed away in Robert Jordan and Lloyd Alexander, the latter of which I believe was an early influence of yours. Is there anything you would like to say?

Kristen: We also lost Madeline L’Engle. It’s been a very sad year. Lloyd Alexander was indeed an early influence. When I was a teen, I read and re-read the Prydain series many times. I not only loved the story and the characters, but the gentle humor in Lloyd Alexander’s writing. My sympathy goes out to the families and friends of the authors we lost, as well as to the readers who loved their work. To our great fortune, all three left behind an incredible body of work, which we can go back to again and again.

Q: Thank you for mentioning Ms. L’Engle. What’s been in your reading pile lately?

Kristen: Recently I was sick and simultaneously attempting to work a day job, so most of my reading consisted of magazines – about all I could manage. Now that I’m better, I’ve just completed Julie Czerneda’sReap the Wild Wind”, and am anxiously awaiting the next installment.

Q: Well I’m very happy that you’re feeling better :) So what about new writers? Is there anyone you’d like to plug?

Kristen: The most recent new writer I’ve read is Patrick Rothfuss. His debut novel, “The Name of the Wind”, came out to strong reviews in the spring. I think he’ll be someone to watch. He’s also a very congenial fellow in person.

Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to say to your audience?

Kristen: I would like to thank them for giving my stuff a shot whether they liked it or not, and for those who’ve stuck with me, a big thank you for their patience. It’s a joy to me to know there are people out there who read and like my work, and are willing to stick with me through the years.

20 comments:

SQT said...

Gah! I was going to try to get an interview with Kristin!

Arghhhh! I should be green, not blue.

Paul Abbamondi said...

Excellent interview. Really looking forward to The High King's Tomb, and seeing what new troubles Karigan gets herself into.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this Interwiev! Interesting questions, and Kristen Britain seems to be a very nice person :)

Calibandar said...

Hi Robert,

Do you know when the Wayne Barlowe interview will be up? I'm curious to see if he will be writing a sequel.

Tia said...

I'm one of those longtime fans, and I'll be buying Kristen's book. I'd rather she not drag the series out, but since her novels tend to stand on their own, so I suppose that is ok.

However, I always like to see the OTHER ideas that an author comes up with. I hope Kristen is not afraid that we won't enjoy something in some other storyline, with other characters. I have enjoyed the different characters and series in books by Tad Williams and J. V. Jones.

And I would love it if Kristen would start a blog! Hint, hint!

Robert said...

Theresa, by all means, I encourage you to get another interview with Ms. Britain. It would be interesting to see what else she has to say :)

Paul, Anonymous, glad you liked the review :) I've completed "The High King's Tomb", which I have mixed feelings about, but you'll have to wait for the full review on Monday ;)

Calibander, I haven't gotten answers back from Mr. Barlowe yet. He's a pretty busy guy! But I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks...

Tia, I agree. I'd love to see Ms. Britain tackle something else, but there's still a lot of story left to be told in the Green Rider series and right now I think it's still progressing naturally...

Anonymous said...

Good interview, but the comment about literary books being short is ridiculous. The problem with fantasy is that the books are way too long.

Jenny said...

That was a fun Interview. I'm excited to see where she goes with the Green Rider series in Tomb, and even if you do have mixed reviews, I'm anxious for your review on monday!
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Can whoever read the book please tell me what happens with the Karigan, Zachary, and Estora thing? In detail, if possible? I seriously think I will go insane if I have to wait any longer! Please, someone e-mail me at jadekim87@comcast.net and tell me about it!

Anonymous said...

Great interview :o) I have to say that I'm also anxious to find out what happens between Karigan and Zachary - the way First Rider left it was agonising! I hope that Tomb has the same release date here in Australia so I can get my hands on it. Thanks again for the interview and I look forward to your review on Monday :o)

Siggy

Robert said...

Siggy, thanks! My review for "The High King's Tomb" is actually out now :) I also believe that the book will be available in your area tomorrow ;)

Regarding the relationship between Zachary, Karigan, etc., let me just say that not much happens in that area...

Anonymous said...

i love the green rider books! they are amazing! i'm so excited for Tomb!! keep writing!

Anonymous said...

Meet Kristen in person!

Kristen will be doing a book reading and signing at Borders in Bangor, ME on Thursday, November 15th at 7 PM.

Please contact the store for more details, 207-990-3300.

Laird Padraig Docca said...

I've read TOMB and am now very anxious to read the next one. Please hurry!

anna said...

I HAVE BEEN READING GREEN rider evry day for the past 5 days not even half way finshed on page 200 i can tell this book is worth reading. i never have been so suckd into a book befor than now.
wait for more books to com out!

Anonymous said...

I AM HOOKED AND I CAN'T STAND WAITING FOR THE NEXT BOOK! DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE TO WAIT ANOTHER 4 YEARS TO READ IT?????

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THE GREEN RIDER SERIES!! I have read tomb as I was later to discover kristens books. I can't wait for her next book and I hope it will be out in less then four years! I also hope that something can be done so that zachary and karigan can find a way to be together!

Anonymous said...

I am an absolute fan of the Green Rider series...i'm so hooked i've read both Green Rider and First Rider's Call at least ten times over.

Honestly, Kristen is such a beautiful writer who makes you get involved in the whole story and really feel for the characters. I can't wait to get my hands on TOMB.... need to order it. :-)

Anonymous said...

I have just finished the the 3rd book and I can´t wait to get the next one on my hands.
I will have to be a while and I will have to get it send to Spain and we don´t get then in hear. Lucky I bought the first book on my stay at the Uk.
Please, keep writting all this good stories...

Pete Petersen said...

I have read all three of the Green Rider sequel. The King's Tomb was as good as the first and even better! I am soooo sorry I have to wait so long for the next injection of The Green Riders.

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